Tailored Education: opinions remain divided

Edition 28 June 2018, by Femke van Ieperen

Equality and inclusion have traditionally played a key role in the Dutch educational system. It is said that by catering for children with minor learning difficulties within mainstream education, the best can be brought out of them. However, since the Dutch ‘Tailored Education’ (Passend Onderwijs) law was introduced in 2014, opinions have been divided on its effectiveness.

Since the new law, every Dutch child can potentially be offered a place that suits their qualities and development potential in all mainstream schools, who are obliged to cater for this with basic tailormade care and guidance support. This includes children with minor learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, or those requiring a form of medical support. For slightly more serious behavioural disorders, one or two mainstream schools within a region may run special classes. As stated on the national government (Rijksoverheid) website, the new regulation is bringing with it more cooperation between regular and special education, as well as health and youth care systems, teachers, parents, schools, councils and government. It indicates, however, that this needs time to develop.

Although most teachers and schools said they like the idea behind tailored education, according to research De Monitor conducted in 2017 with DUO Educational research & advice (Onderwijsonderzoek & Advies), 90% of the more than 1.000 teachers interviewed about tailored education in primary education (basisonderwijs) claimed to lack the time to provide it; 93% said their workload had increased because of it; and 79 percent said the extra care came at the expense of time spent on ‘ordinary’ students. 62% did not believe that tailored education would still be available at their school in two years. “Teachers struggle to give suitable education, parents run into barriers,” the then Dutch Secretary of State for Education, Culture and Science, Sander Dekker, said in an AD news report in 2016. Teachers were reported to be working in too-large classes, to be overwhelmed and under trained, and in the same article, it was found that ‘schools offer little customisation for children.’

Teacher Simone van Bolhuis, from a school in Maarssen, said in a NOS report in May of this year that teachers ‘do not have the means to provide tailored education,’ which she called ‘very frustrating’. Karin van Ooijen, mother of a child that needs extra support, said in the same report that she has seen ten or twelve people discussing her child’s progress together, arguing there are too many organisations involved and no one is willing to take responsibility for one child. In February 2018, Illya Soffer, director of an association for people with disabilities, ‘Ieder (in)’, said in Trouw newspaper that education remains segregated and that ‘parents cannot really choose a tailored school in the neighbourhood.’

On a more positive note, when in 2016 the Dutch Foundation for the Disabled Child (NSGK) investigated four Dutch mainstream schools for its research project ‘In1school’, it found tailor-made education is possible with ‘consistent implementation’. Successful schools, the research concluded, aimed to ‘be an inclusive school as the guiding principle, in everything from policy to the design of the school building, and from the school’s didactic approach, to its contacts with parents’.

Looking at ways forward, Henk Keesenberg of a school partnership in Zwolle, said in the previously- mentioned NOS report that it would pay to have one coordinator assigned to one pupil, as well as one dedicated independent supervisor: “Back to one captain on one ship, instead of eleven, that seems a lot simpler,” he said. Agnes van Wijnen of NSGK called in the AD for improved teacher expertise and training, and in the same report it was also suggested that more school-parent cooperation is needed: “Parents know exactly what their child needs,” said Marieke Boon from parent advice organisation Ouders & Onderwijs.